Les Murray

A seven-hundred-page Collected Poems? The cover photograph of the Big Bloke himself is an embodiment of what’s inside in all its sprawling abundance. As is his surname, which can’t help but invoke our country’s big river, whether in full flood, or slow trickle, or slow spreading billabongs ...

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My first reaction on picking up Les Murray’s new collection, Waiting for the Past, was to note how handsomely produced it is ... ... (read more)

The octopus is dead
who lived in Wylies Baths
below the circus balustrade
and the chocked sea tiles.

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In his polemical Introduction, Les Murray notes that Quadrant was founded sixty years ago by poet James McAuley, the ‘stern formalist’ who ensured that poetry occupied a prominent place in the magazine. Poetry has continued to be central to Quadrant, its profile not waning under Murray’s stewardship as ...

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Afternoon tea

Susan K. Martin


The Penguin Book of Australian Bush Writing
edited by John Ross
Viking, $32.95 pb, 356 pp, 9780670076413


Twinings has recently introduced a new tea flavour called ‘Australian Afternoon Tea’. On the box is an image ...

It is a critical truism, if not a cliché, that poetry estranges: it makes things strange, so that we can see the world and ourselves afresh. Defamiliarisation, the uncanny, even metaphor, are all fundamental to poetry’s estranging power. Unsurprisingly, madness, vision and love have also long been poetry’s intimates, each involving the radical reformation – or deformation – of ‘normal’ ways of seeing the world. One might describe poetry as surprisingly antisocial, since poets have from ancient times been associated with social isolation, distance or elevation, as well as with madness.

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Biplane Houses by Les Murray & Collected Poems by Les Murray

June-July 2006, no. 282

Perhaps only John Shaw Neilson and Judith Wright have brought an equal sense of place to Australian poetry: the sense of place as a fact of consciousness with geographic truth. But in his latest collection, Biplane Houses, Les Murray considers more airy habitations – flights, cliff roads and weather – and the collection has a matching airiness that is only sometimes lightness ...

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You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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Dog Fox Field by Les Murray & Blocks and Tackles by Les Murray

November 1990, no. 126

The reasons for rhyme, and the rhyme of his reasons, can be found in the prose work in the pieces ‘Poems and Poesies’ and ‘Poemes and the Mystery of the Embodiment’, the general underpinnings of which are outlined in ‘Embodiment and Incarnation’. He argues that art is a product of a trinity: the forebrain (the seat of waking reason), the limbic reptilian brain (the dream) and the body (the dance of ecstasy). God can reach us through all three, and poetry is a uniquely placed art which exploits all of these areas. Any deep integration of the three is a poem. Hence a theology (Christianity), an ideology (Marxism), or a breath-taking design (Porsche cars) can be a poem. Using the analogy from phoneme, Murray calls this large unit a ‘poeme’. ‘Poem’ he reserves for its traditional meaning, arguing that a poem is the most perfect and integrated art-form there is.

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This book can read at times as though it were Les Murray’s revenge on Australian poetry. Of course, no anthology will please all of the people all of the time, but this one does not so much seem to represent any consistent view of what significant poems have been written in this country as Murray’s own projections about the kinds of poetry which ought to have been written here. The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse is quirky and opinionated, very ambitious in the ground it wants to cover, and yet ultimately hamstrung in its assemblage. It amounts to a quixotic attempt to see Australian poetry as a massively unified body of work, and Murray has played fast and loose with the material that was before him in order to reveal this unity.

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